Parshas Vayishlach 2018: The Wrestler's Parsha*
Yaakov Avinu (Jacob) last saw Eisav (Esau) thirty four years ago and had to run away from his brother and his rage, after “stealing” the first and more significant blessing from their father Yitzchak (Isaac) on his deathbed. In fear of his life, Yaakov had to flee.
Eisav (Esau) was now approaching with four hundred men and a goal of annihilation. The encounter with Eisav was inevitable. Yaakov prepared in three ways. He prayed, sent gifts to his brother, and prepared for possible confrontation.
Yaakov sent his family ahead as he had forgotten some small vessels and went back to retrieve them. On his way to meet them, the passuk (verse) says, “Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Genesis 32:35)
The Rabbis explained, this man Yaakov wrestled with was actually the sar shel Eisav (angel of Eisav) himself, disguised as a man. Every nation has a heavenly angel representing them to go as an intermediary between them and Hashem. Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) doesn’t have an intermediary angel because we are Hashem’s children. Eisav, the epitome of evil, does have an angel but not in the traditional sense. Eisav’s angel is Satan himself, the prime spiritual force of evil.
The Gemora in tractate Bava Basra states, “Satan descends and seduces man to sin, then he ascends to incite G-d, by prosecuting man for his sinfulness…” The angel of Eisav had to attack Yaakov because Yaakov was the last and according to most, the greatest of the avos (patriarchs). Yaakov represented man’s struggle in life to raise himself and the world above the temptation of sin. While the Satan’s purpose is to entice man to sin.
Interestingly enough, the angel of Eisav (the Satan) wrestled with Yaakov. Why? What's the meaning behind the physical struggle with him? What about this situation required a spiritual being and a physical being to wrestle it out?
Wrestling is a combat activity requiring the highest level of physical strength, conditioning and mental toughness. The Satan wrestled with Yaakov Avinu because it’s this very lesson that reverberates within our nation.
In life, it's not the physicality that defines the strength of a person. The real man emerges when he comes face-to-face with challenges. It's the situations that are the most challenging that really pull out the inner strength, wisdom, and spiritual greatness from within. How do you handle conflict? Are you composed or do you completely lose yourself?
Our efforts in the physical world can elevate us spiritually and that’s the battle. Yaakov was the embodiment of spirituality and so, his great challenge had to come in the physical form and through that wrestling match he was elevated spiritually and was given a bracha (blessing) and his name was changed for the future to be known as Yisrael.
Yirah (fear of Heaven), mental toughness, determination, and discipline are how we win our battles against the Satan (yetzer hora - evil inclination). This is how Yaakov won and this is how we can rise victorious as well.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and weekend!
Maverick V. Peters
*This is an original essay.